Advocacy Update: Process Stalled for ESEA Reauthorization

By Kelly D. Pollitt
August 2013, Volume 36, Issue 12

Congress has adjourned for a six week summer recess, which will leave only a few weeks on the legislative calendar in September before the next scheduled break. With the legislative agenda consumed by a number of big-ticket items—including immigration reform and passing the annual appropriations bills to keep federal programs operating—there won’t be much time to complete action on the fiscal year 2014 budget, let alone the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

When Congress returns from its summer recess, lawmakers are expected to begin work on a continuing resolution (a stop-gap spending bill) that will keep the government running at current spending levels. The reauthorization of ESEA is also expected to languish through next year without a bipartisan agreement between the House and Senate leadership to finish work on the ESEA bills that have been put forward.

Here is where the ESEA reauthorization process stands:

  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chaired by Tom Harkin (D-IA) has passed its version of the ESEA bill out of the committee along party lines (Democrats are in the majority in the Senate). The bill must be scheduled for Senate floor consideration to move forward.
  • The full House of Representatives has passed its version of ESEA along party lines (Republicans control the House), led by John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The remaining actions to complete a reauthorization of ESEA this year require 1) the Senate to pass its version of the bill on the floor, and 2) a convening of a conference committee to reconcile differences between the two bills. A conference committee is designed to engage lawmakers in consensus-building to reach agreement on areas of the bills where there are significant differences. If, or when, the Senate decides to move its bill to the floor, the amendment process could take a week. Should this occur, a conference committee process typically extends weeks or months—time which Congress does not have before the end of the calendar year. Congress will then have the next year before the session is over, and the process will have to start all over again.

Beyond prioritizing the time that is needed to finish ESEA next year, lawmakers must have the political will to engage in a negotiation process to reach a reasonable compromise on any legislation. Congress has been mired in political gridlock for years, and without a bipartisan approach to ESEA reauthorization, the process is likely to disintegrate.

Meanwhile, forty states are now operating under the Obama administration’s “ESEA flexibility” waivers that provide some level of regulatory relief from onerous provisions of the current law, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). If Congress does not renew ESEA, the remaining states face 100 percent proficiency deadlines in reading and math by next year.

As the Congressional session moves forward, NAESP will continue to urge lawmakers to reach a bipartisan agreement to reauthorize ESEA. The Association will also continue its work to reinforce and support the role of principals. Read more about NAESP’s comprehensive policy and advocacy efforts at

Kelly D. Pollitt is Associate Executive Director for Policy, Public Affairs, and Special Projects at NAESP

Copyright © 2013 National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.

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